Abdulhadi al-Kwahaja arrested: memories of a jailed activist’s wife

As I write this the dedicated human rights activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja is lying, close to unconscious, in Bahrain’s Military Hospital. Unless the Bahrain authorities act quickly it is highly likely that he will die there. His journey to this point is perhaps not what you would expect. Abdulhadi al-Khawaja is here because he is willing to die for his freedom.

Arrested last year for his role in anti-government protests, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja was tried before a military court and sentenced to life imprisonment. He is thought to have been severely tortured both before and after this unfair trial. Stuck inside a system that has consistently denied him justice, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja turned to one of the few freedoms left to him: he began a hunger strike on 8 February. He has not eaten since.

Over two months later and he is alleged to be slipping into a coma. Despite this, the authorities refuse to let his family or lawyer visit him.

In the blog below his wife recalls the night of Abdulhadi’s arrest and the terror that has followed. She wrote it in September for the Amnesty livewire blog, before he started this hunger strike, but it speaks volumes of their love, and of the destructive force of government oppression.

Please send an appeal to the Bahrain authorities now demanding the immediate and unconditional release of Abdulhadi al-Khawaja and the 13 other prisoners of conscience in Bahrain. All were imprisoned solely for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly.

It was on a Friday when we gathered in my daughter Fatima’s flat as a family – eating together, talking about politics and human rights or joking and laughing.

Suddenly we heard a very loud noise. In a matter of seconds the flat door was broken in and burly, masked men burst into the room. I cannot explain how I felt at that moment, because no word in the dictionary, or in any language, can explain it.

My husband had always said “whenever they come to take me, please do not interfere and I will just go with them”. But he was not allowed to go peacefully. One of them grabbed him by the neck and then pulled him down the stairs by his legs. He was brutally beaten – punched and kicked in front of me and my daughters. When my eldest daughter interfered, they responded with insults and tried to arrest her too. I was torn between begging them not to take her and looking at my husband on the stairs where they were still kicking him and praying that he was ok. As if that was not enough, I suddenly noticed three masked men holding my three sons-in-law by their necks and taking them downstairs. At that point I was furious, sad and helpless.

My husband was gone, but I could not show how sad I felt because my daughters were suffering after watching the arrest of their husbands and father.

From that night on, our lifestyle changed. We would stay up all night, just in case the masked men decided to come back, and sleep after sunrise. We always slept fully clothed, just in case. Every sound made me jump and check the apartment was safe.

Days went by and we were waiting for news – any news. We asked a lawyer to try to get any information about their condition or whereabouts. He told us that that would be fruitless since lawyers weren’t being told anything about detainees. I was praying to God, “Please just keep them alive!” – because after seeing how ‘Abdulhadi was beaten, I was not sure that he had survived. My daughter decided to go on hunger strike. She was getting weaker and weaker every day.

Al-Khawaja's family call for his release in Bahrain © AP GraphicsBank

Weeks after the arrest, my husband called. He could barely speak and the call lasted seconds. He said that the oppression was great but his spirits were still high. All I could think at that point was: “At least now I know he is alive!” I only learned about the extent of my husband’s injuries and his subsequent operation by watching the news. That day I wished I was dead.

I was very scared and worried about what I would see when I met him again. Then the trial started and I saw him. His face was different but his soul was unchanged. His head was held high, his eyes were sharp, and he was proud as ever. I was so happy to see his soul. Yes, as strange as that sounds, I can see my husband’s soul.

I have lived with ‘Abdulhadi for 30 years; 30 great years. He is my husband, my best friend, my soul-mate and my everything. He has been sentenced to life imprisonment and I hope that the pressure will be so great on the government that they will be forced to set him free. Until then, I am lucky to have so many good memories with this kind, wise, respectful, truthful and lovely husband of mine. I can go on forever re-living those memories while waiting for him.

I find myself amused by the fact that, although I am 52 years old, I usually can’t sleep on the nights of our visits. I usually spend the whole night thinking of what I will tell him the following day. During these visits he helps me look on the bright side of life. We talk about all our happy memories together and usually end up laughing about some joke or another.

I love my husband and I am so proud of him, both as a man and a human rights defender.

 

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